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This Week In AFLCMC History - July 25 - 29, 2022

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
25 Jul 2000 (Fighters & Adv. Aircraft Dir/Armament Dir.) 
A Lockheed F-22 Raptor fired an AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile, successfully demonstrating its ability to launch weapons from its internal weapons bay for the first time. Before the F-22, fighter aircraft carried their missiles externally to avoid the complexity of enclosed bays. However, exposed missiles are not stealthy and would therefore negate the Raptor’s low observable design. The closed bays hid the weapons until ejected for launch, preserving the low radar cross section. The Air Force and contractors conducted extensive wind tunnel and computational fluid dynamics testing to ensure the acoustic environment was safe and that the dropped missiles would not hit the aircraft as they cleared the bay. (Photo above shows F-22 in flight).

26 Jul 1947 (USAF) 
President Harry S. Truman signed Public Law 235, better known as the National Security Act of 1947 that created the Department of Defense, and, most notably,
established an independent United States Air Force. Happy 75th Birthday, USAF! Since the expansion of air forces during World War I, Army leaders had advocated for an independent service for aviation. While some modest progress was made during the interwar years, it took the Second World War to build up the critical mass, and demonstrate the relevant doctrine, roles, and mission to justify it. The standing deterrence provided by a Cold War air force provided the final impetus. 

29 Jul 1946 (Propulsion Dir./Tinker AFB) 

The Oklahoma City Air Material Area (OCAMA) at Tinker AFB received its first jet engine, a J33, for experimental work. Early the next year, the Air Force announced that the base would receive all jet engine overhaul work from the San Bernardino, CA, depot. When Army Air Force commander Gen Hap Arnold was shown the British jet
engine developed by Frank Whittle in 1941, our allies offered to turn it over to us because the US had not yet developed any domestic turbine engines. The effort was managed by AFLCMC’s predecessors at Wright Field and contracted to General Electric because of their extensive experience with aircraft turbo-chargers, which used similar technologies. The J33 used the same basic architecture as the Whittle engine, but was vastly improved. Because GE lacked the manufacturing capacity, the Army contracted J33 production to the Allison Engine Company. They were used in the ubiquitous Lockheed T-33s/F-80s and other aircraft and cruise missiles.

30 Jul 1941 (Tinker AFB) 

Representatives of the Army Air Force, local government, and the Chamber of Commerce formally broke ground for what became Tinker AFB, Oklahoma. It was not lost on the gathering that construction had been underway for two weeks already and was actively going on behind them. One temporary building was already in place, work had started on the first permanent building, and significant grading and excavating was completed. Nevertheless, the local dignitaries and some 300 others braved the 104 degree heat for the ceremonies. Major T. M. Osborne of the Army Corps of Engineers was in charge of the work and presided over the day’s events. In a break from tradition, the group opted to use a diesel tractor instead of shovels to break ground. Reporters noted with bemusement that none of the men actually knew how to operate it until a nearby workman came to their rescue. 

31 Jul 1962 (Armament Dir.) 

Boeing’s Missile Production Center in Seattle delivered the last of about 700 IM-99B Bomarc interceptor missiles to the Air Force. The Bomarc (an acronym for Boeing Michigan Aeronautical Research Center) was a surface-to-air missile powered on takeoff by a solid rocket booster, then by a supersonic ramjet engine. It carried a radar to detect incoming bomber aircraft and a conventional or nuclear warhead to destroy them. They were deployed only in limited numbers in the US and Canada during the 1960s, but were perhaps most famous as the scapegoat for the greatest “what-if” story in Canadian aviation history: its government chose to buy BOMARCs instead of continuing development of their indigenous Avro CF-105 Arrow interceptor, cancelling what would’ve been that country’s highest-performing aircraft ever and arguably ruining its aviation industry. 

50 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History: 27 July 1972 

The McDonnell Douglas YF-15A-1 Eagle made its first flight at Edwards AFB, California. 

The F-15 originated more than 7 years prior, when Director of Defense Research & Engineering (DDR&E) Harold Brown authorized the start of the Fighter-Experimental (F-X) program in April 1965. At the time, there was much debate within the Air Force over a successor to the Century Series fighters (F-100, etc.) and F-4 that filled the squadrons of Tactical Air Command (TAC) at that time. These “fighters” in truth were either fighter-bombers or interceptors, not true air-to-air dog-fighters. They had been developed when Strategic Air Command (SAC) dominated USAF policy and procurement, skewing the fighter mission to fit into strategic roles. They were either equipped to deliver a small nuclear bomb - then later for ground attack using conventional weapons - or else were equipped for short range, high speed interception of enemy bombers over the US using missiles, not guns and maneuverability. 

The shortcomings of both types in conventional warfare against the small, light-weight, highly maneuverable, and inexpensive Soviet aircraft of the 1960s, were revealed on paper in studies of hypothetical air wars over Europe and in reality over Vietnam. When the large, complex American aircraft performed poorly in air-to-air combat, DDR&E Brown and others recognized the need for a new fighter, but debates raged for nearly three years over whether it should a more politically palatable multi-role aircraft, capable of engaging ground or air targets, or a dedicated air superiority platform. 

Studies done by AFLCMC’s predecessor the Aeronautical Systems Division (ASD) and others quantified the negative trade-offs that the ground attack mission had on the F-X’s performance as a dogfighter. The multi-role designs closely resembled the F-111 program that was then in development as a long-range interdiction “fighter,” optimized for medium-range bombing, but suffering from joint requirements imposed by the Navy. 

However, by 1967, multiple factors skewed the F-X to air superiority. The Soviet’s MiG-25 presented a new aerial threat, while the Navy’s VFAX (eventually the F-14 of “Top Gun” fame) provided a domestic competitor similar enough that the Air Force was concerned they’d be forced to buy it, like they had with the F-4 and A-7. As a result, the 1 September 1968 Request for Proposal (right) prioritized the fighter mission and relegated attack capabilities to a distant second. Even those minimal features were dropped in an effort to save money and due to the influence of a new generation of Air Force leadership who came out of the fighter community and had experienced air combat in Vietnam. “Not a Pound for Air to Ground” became the F-X’s mantra. 

McDonnell Douglas won the contract for the F-X/F-15 in 1969, which would be the USAF’s first true air superiority fighter since the F-86 Sabre of the Korean War. The Eagle was built in St. Louis, with the first YF-15A-1 shipped from there to Edwards for its first flight. Since then, the company (now Boeing) has produced over 1,000 of them - including the F-15E specialized for the ground attack role and the new multi-role F-15EX.